Metathesizing Stink

/ Language /

Every family has some cute story to tell about their precious child’s adorable mangling of the language. My family told how my cousin would be put on the potty and told to “tinkle.” Soon Pat was saying “kittle.” Soon our whole family was saying kittle! We didn’t say “I gotta go take a piss.” We didn’t say “I need to urinate. We’d say “I gotta go make kittle.” A tribute to Cousin Pat, whom we all loved, and revered: despite my sister and I being in position to be considered the even-younger, even-more-adorable language manglers. No one stays the precious infant forever.

Note: that particular example presents a simple metathesis, a transposing of the /t/ and the /k/ positions. The family joke spread, I don’t know how far. The Gilmans started it, the Knatzs adopted it. There may be Gilmans / Knatzs today saying kittle without any idea where it comes from or that it started as a family joke. Every family does something similar, no?

My wife’s favorite applying to her family (specifically to her herself) was I think a common one (metathesis again). Hilary as a child would say “pzghetti” for spaghetti.

Metathesizing Metathesis

My friend Rose made everyone go har, har har, yuck! when she would talk, around Bryn Mawr, about methetasis!

Sure Does Stink

Well, one of my own, from the early 1940s just came into my head: not a mispronunciation, but a misunderstanding: common, common, common: universal.

Paconic Bay
thanx wikimedia

We’re walking on the beach. Paconic Bay. We’d just rowed across Squire’s Pond, from the Hamptons cottage my uncle was building, home from the war. Now we were walking on the beach, all the Knatzs: my mother, my father, my sister, me, and a good contingent of Gilmans: definitely my cousin Tommy, the senior child among us, the know-it-all, because he was the speaker, the authority.
Walking on the beach we came upon the carcass of a horseshoe crab. It was upside down, dead on its back, and uncountable little critters were having at it, eating what was left of the body.
Tommy picks it up by its spike tail.
Euw, Beth retreats.
Tommy says, “This is supposed to be extinct.”
“Sure does stink,” says Paul: to general merriment from the adults.

horseshoe crab
thanx democraticunderground

Chee, that kid looks just like my son. & like my grandson. & just like me too!

Not that many years later I became the age that Tommy had been then. He was off at Princeton, still a know-it-all; I was becoming the local ten year old know-it-all. And the experts who coerced themselves onto me as my “teachers” thought they’d gone back to Genesis when they traced etymologies to Latin. By the time I was in grad school we were tracing things to Indo-European. I soon saw that the furthest we could see was hardly older than yesterday. Humans have been babbling for seventy or so thousand year, muttering for a couple of million years. Hebrew, Sanscrit, Latin … Sumerian … all recent, recent.

But I bet this: if we could find a fossil of speech from sixty thousand years ago (or from one hundred and sixty thousand years ago) we might very well have found some precious child’s mispronunciation of kittle.

Rose, Love Story

Rose, Anton’s Rose, my good friend Anton, Anton and Rose. Rose died, oh gosh, forty-odd years ago. Lymphalma. Went through her overnight. Suddenly plump Rose weighted eighty pounds. Then she weighted nothing. 1968ish.
There’s something about Rose I want to tell the world, while I can. That year, 1960s, the story of Rose’s birth of Adam, and immediate cancer and demise was burning through that year’s MLA meeting like wildfire. Segal heard it, along with everybody else. He didn’t know Rose or Anton or me … He didn’t know that Rose was Bryn Mawr, like my Hilary, while Anton was, like me, Columbia.
No: Segal just wrote a novel, making it up: the girl Radcliffe, the guy Harvard. He called it Love Story.

Language Menu

About pk

Seems to me that some modicum of honesty is requisite to intelligence. If we look in the mirror and see not kleptocrats but Christians, we’re still in the same old trouble.
This entry was posted in language and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s